Rowland Rebele, journalism philanthropist and pioneer, passes away at 93

Rowland “Reb” Rebele ’51, a pioneer of local journalism in the Bay Area, passed away at the age of 93 on Nov. 25. He will be remembered for his philanthropy and patronage at institutions including Stanford, where he established the Rebele Journalism Internship Program and hosted a number of symposiums with aspiring student journalists.

Born in San Francisco in 1930, Rebele was a staffer at The Stanford Daily and was inspired to pursue a career in journalism after a college internship. After graduating from Stanford, he bought his first publication, The Coalinga Record. In the ensuing decades, he would buy many small local newspapers and help them grow, before selling them after they had become important publications.

Rebele dedicated a large portion of the profits he received toward helping his community. With his wife, Patricia “Pat” Rebele, he helped fight homelessness and contributed funding to the Aptos Community Youth Program to empower underserved high school students.

At Stanford, he established the Rebele Journalism Internship Program, which has provided over 100 aspiring journalists at Stanford with funding to work in a newsroom, according to program director Sarah Wert.

Communications professor and department chair James Hamilton first met Rebele after arriving at Stanford ten years ago and “was struck by how energized he was to help students … understand the importance of journalism.” 

“He never lost a sense of excitement about the role that local newspapers play in community life,” Hamilton wrote. 

Hamilton wrote that Rebele’s generosity had a “profound” impact on the Stanford community, adding that “more than twenty students now pursue internships in journalism each year because of the internship program.” 

Among these students was Mark Allen Cu ’26, who is a data director for The Daily. He participated in the Rebele Internship Program as a frosh while working for Bay City News. As part of the program, Cu worked on a story about Filipino anti-imperial activism in the Bay Area.

“I think the most gratifying part of being a journalist is going into communities you are a part of or familiar with and really extrapolating and publicizing issues that people don’t often talk about,” Cu wrote. “This is definitely one of those cases — many of my sources told me afterward that they’d never been given attention by any news outlets in the past.”

Cu wrote that the Rebele grant allowed him to pursue his passion without worrying about finances. 

“Without the Rebele grant, I wouldn’t have been able to connect with my community in such a unique way,” Cu wrote.

The communication department hosts an annual luncheon attended by both former and prospective Rebele internship recipients. Ahead of the event, Rebele would receive samples of the work done by the previous year’s cohort of interns.

“He carefully read their work and would come prepared with handwritten notes on several of them, as well as inspirational words for all in attendance about the impact student journalists can have,” Wert wrote. 

Colleagues concurred that his care for each intern was noticeable. 

“The questions he asked students revealed he read every clip and letter and was excited to learn more about students’ experiences,” Hamilton wrote.

While the luncheon will be held as planned on Jan. 30, “it will feel very different without him there,” Wert wrote.

Outside of the Rebele internships, the communication department also hosts an annual Rebele symposium. Panels at the symposium are moderated by communication professors and feature Stanford alumni who have pursued careers in journalism. 

This year’s Rebele symposium, titled “Covering Tech: Finding the Signal in the Noise,” explored how to best report on emerging technologies and their ever-evolving impacts. Previous years’ symposium topics included discussions on how swing states should be covered in elections and what kind of “Journalism We Need.” 

The Rebele First Amendment fund, set up by the Rebele family, goes to supporting the work of instructors and researchers in the communication department. Hamilton wrote that the faculty supported by these funds “remain life-long mentors for both undergraduate and [graduate] alums, helping them navigate reporting choices and career decisions.” 

“His curiosity about the world and commitment to journalism’s role in democracy live on through the research, teaching and internships made possible through his gifts to Stanford,” Hamilton wrote. 

Even considering Rebele’s direct engagement with students, Hamilton said his legacy has an impact far beyond the Stanford campus: “The readers, viewers and listeners of the work produced by Stanford journalism alums are the ultimate beneficiary.”